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Exclusive Interview: Dani Nolden of Shadowside
Brazil and hard rock/heavy metal have gone hand in hand for decades, spawning Sepultura and hosting massive stadium shows by Queen, Kiss, and countless others. The most promising Brazilian-metal connection to come along in some time is Shadowside. The band combines metal and melody in an irresistible sonic cocktail – as evidenced by their latest album, Inner Monster Out (produced by Fredrik Nordström, who has previously worked with Arch Enemy, Evergrey, and Dimmu Borgir).
Hailing from the city of Santos, Shadowside is comprised of singer Dani Nolden, guitarist Raphael Mattos, bassist Fabio Carito, and drummer Fabio Buitividas. Originally formed in 2001, the group has issued two earlier full lengths – 2007′s Theatre Of Shadows and 2009′s Dare To Dream. But it’s Inner Monster Out that is causing the biggest stir worldwide, as it spent six weeks in the Top 15 CMJ’s Loud Rock Charts, and two weeks in the Top 10. Additionally, the quartet has made inroads to the Japanese market, scoring the #26 best selling album according to BURRN! Magazine, followed by bands like Nightwish, Evanescence, Lamb Of God and Shinedown.
We caught up with Dani to talk about Shadowside’s long path to success and the international recognition of Inner Monster Out.
Hey Dani, it’s great to catch up with you! How has 2012 treated you so far?
It’s my pleasure! 2012 has been a great year and now towards the end it just keeps getting better and better which makes me extremely excited for what 2013 will bring. 2012 was filled with accomplishments none of us were expecting, to be very honest. However we ended up charting in Japan, being on the top 10 CMJ Loud Rock charts, winning awards by popular voting, touring like crazy in our home country and looking forward to the worldwide tour next year. It’s been one hell of a ride!
Shadowside definitely looks, feels and sounds like a well-oiled machine. But I’m curious – as the sole original member of Shadowside, were you ever tempted to pursue a solo band or other band situation as other members left? What was your motivation to keep on going as members left?
As much as a bitch as I’ll sound now, I was kinda glad to see them go (laughs). The thing is that things started happening really fast for us here when we started out and some of the guys that started the band with me just weren’t ready for it. Some didn’t like the world of professional music and wanted out, some let that get to theirs heads and changed completely so they had to be asked out. I miss some of them as friends, not that the friendship ended, but it was fun playing with them… just for the fun of it. However I have a hard time seeing them as founding members of Shadowside nowadays. Fabio Buitvidas, our drummer, has been in the band since the recordings of the first debut album and has been in the band for way longer than the first drummer so I see him as the original Shadowside drummer, you know? And with Raphael, our current guitarist, we found a stable lineup that allowed us to tour and focus on the band and really live for the music… so for that reason, I haven’t really thought of going solo or joining another band and leaving Shadowside behind. Whenever we had to change the lineup, I always felt that deep down it was for the best of the band so I never took it as a hit nor as something we’d have to recover from, I would always see it as a band improvement. And with Fabio there always discussing the new member choices with me, it always felt like a team and then Raphael joined us and became part of that team. Bass players have been coming and going, although I hope that won’t be the case anymore, but I feel that the three of us are pretty much unbreakable. It’d have to be something insanely bad and serious to make one of us not want to play with the others anymore.
Your first label made some bad business decisions and didn’t even get to release anything from Shadowside. Was is hard to recover from that experience?
Very much, yeah. We were young, with very little money and no experience so everything was hard. We had no one to back us up and explain us things. Back then our safety net was our label and then our label screwed us up and we had no one to run to. Their intentions were great so I don’t hold grudges against them but they unintentionally set us back some good 3 or 4 years because that’s how long it took us to finally finish the debut album because of those bad business decisions and while we were in the middle of all that business drama, with the recordings halted, not knowing when we’d be able to continue our work, I had lots of sleepless nights and concerns about the band’s future. We came this close to not being able to continue because we simply had no funds left. We only managed to release the album because we got the album mixed for free by the studio owner since he saw everything we had to go through and wanted to help. When the album was finally done, things got a bit easier, we kinda picked up where we left off. We were ready to start all over again, I was actually pretty sure no one would remember us but luckily those people that thought the band had potential when they first heard our demo never forgot us so we lost time but didn’t lose momentum. Fabio and I would never have given up but we were relieved when we were finally able to be back on the road.
Do you feel that metal fans expect more from a female vocalist?
I honestly don’t think so. I feel that it’s expected from both men and women the same thing regarding music, people want to hear something they like and I honestly believe that when they enjoy what they are listening to, they don’t care if it’s being performed by a guy or a girl. What I do think is that girls sometimes settle for the “she is good for a girl” thing (laughs). Initially the fans expectation from a female actually seems to be lower and then the girl falls for that. Like when women sometimes want to be growlers but don’t do it so well but people say “ah but she’s a woman, that makes it impressive”. That’s a trap aspiring female vocalists have to avoid at all costs. At first it may seem like people don’t demand as much from a woman, but when she decides to really build a career she’ll have to be at least as good as any man or woman around because people won’t pay attention to her in the long run if she can’t sound good regardless of gender.
With Inner Monster Out you were able to work with Fredrik Nordstrom. How would you describe his work style? Did he make decisions or suggestions that were out of your comfort zone while you were in the studio?
The guy is awesome. Simply awesome. He is the producer we’ve been looking for. He definitely took us out of our comfort zones but not regarding songwriting but more related to performance. He’d never take us seriously when we’d say we weren’t able to perform something he wanted us to do. He’s a perfectionist and won’t give you a pat on the back if you sound like crap and that’s exactly what the producer’s role should be in my opinion. Compliments are really cool and welcome, but they don’t help during the recordings. During the recordings, we want to hear what’s wrong. He wouldn’t write music for us, but he’d definitely tell us straight up if something we’d written wasn’t sounding good. And he’d frequently ignore me when I’d tell him I couldn’t sing something… I’d tell him “Fredrik, I can’t reach that note” and he’d say “recording… sing, ok?” (laughs) So not just myself but the guys too, we had no idea we were capable of doing some of the stuff we ended up doing on the album. However it was never a struggle… Fredrik made us very much at ease. He would never give us a hard time, he cracks jokes frequently and the mood in the studio was extremely good. He helped make the recordings of Inner Monster Out very comfortable… he’d listen to everything we wanted to do and was very respectful regarding the direction we wanted to take, he never tried to sway us to something different. Everything was super easy and fast, we ended up finishing the recordings ahead of time and during the last few days we had in the studio, we were stalling just so we’d have something to do since the studio time was already booked anyway (laughs).
Inner Monster Out sounds like Shadowside is really comfortable in their own sound. Would you say this is true more now than on your previous releases?
Yes, definitely! We found our thing, that’s for sure. On Theatre Of Shadows, our debut album, we were trying to sound like the bands we liked while our identity was still very shy, struggling to show through. On Dare To Dream, we were trying our hardest to find that identity and to distance ourselves from the bands we liked. On Inner Monster Out, we found the balance and we found what was missing on the previous works. We found our identity, probably because we stopped thinking too much of where we were going, we were just writing music that we liked. We didn’t care much about anything – as long as it sounded heavy and had a lot of energy, everything was valid! That made it easy to just let our creativity flow and allow our true sound to appear.
Describe Shadowside’s songwriting process. Do you individually present ideas or do you work together? Do you write music around lyrics, does the music inspire lyrics – or a little of both?
I’d say it’s a little of both… I was in charge of all the lyrics this time around except Waste of Life which I wrote together with our bassist, not because I wanted to but because the guys just ended up giving me that task. I enjoyed it a lot although I hope that won’t happen again on the next album because it was a lot of work (laughs). But music inspired lyrics and vice-versa, as well as we all inspired each other. We created everything together. Raphael and I presented ideas individually at first and then we all worked on them together. None of our original demos sound like what you hear on the album which was exactly what we were looking for. We wanted a team effort and we took it as a challenge to please each and every one of us entirely. It’s a special challenge because we cannot agree on a favorite band. Not even on a subgenre (laughs). Of course we can agree on stuff that we all like, but not on that favorite thing, on some influences that we’d want to sound like… so our goal was to create something that would make everyone feel a part of and be able to enjoy listening to and playing live. So we’d present ideas and then we’d change stuff together… we all messed with melodies, guitar riffs and structures. Nothing was just one person’s responsibility and that took the weight off everyone’s shoulders. It was fun. We were just a bunch of friends writing music and finding something that we all enjoy. The music came to life naturally, like “Waste Of Life,” again for example. That song came out of nowhere. I had a chorus that I had no idea what to do with it. Raphael had a riff and didn’t know where to place it so we changed the tempo of my chorus, changed the key of his riff, then I remembered Fabio had once said he always wanted to start a song right off with vocals, then we played around with it a bit and in 15 minutes the song was complete and it turned out to be one of our favorites on the album. Each idea just let to the other and I allowed that same process to happen to the lyrics. I already had an idea about what to write and I had drafts of lyrics, but I decided not to finish them or to consider them complete until I had all the songs. I thought that if we had to write songs to fit the lyrics, we’d end up limiting the songs. So I decided to make my lyrics fit the music instead. I had the themes but didn’t bother coming up with all the words until we were happy with the music.
What do you look to for lyrical inspiration?
Life… all aspects of it. On Inner Monster Out, my inspiration was the human mind. My own and everyone else’s. Fears, dreams, hopes, personality traits, disorders, conscience. I’m not much of a participant, I’m more of an observer. I’m no shrink or psychologist, but I love to observe people’s behavior in different situations. I like to understand and put myself in their shoes to figure out what they feel, think, I try to see the world with their eyes. Inner Monster Out was a kind of a personal journal where I wrote down everything that intrigued me about myself and about others. On “In the Name Of Love,” for instance, I wrote about a domestic violence, in a situation where the person being abused doesn’t want to leave the abuser and instead makes up excuses for him such as “that’s his way of showing love”. I don’t judge those people, instead I wonder what they feel, I wonder where that dependence starts. Or on “Gag Order,” I wrote about being extremely shy to the point of not being able to make casual conversation or grabbing the phone to order pizza. Both are situations I go through frequently. It got better as I learned how to deal with it, but I will still avoid using the phone at all costs unless it’s to talk about the band (laughs). That’s the kind of thing that inspires me… the weird, the disturbed and everything crazy about us all. No one is normal when you look up close and that’s pretty much what normal seems to be.
Who are some bands/artists that made you want to pursue music? Who specifically influenced your vocal style?
I was very much into bands like Queen when I was growing up, my mom was and still is a huge fan, so she’d always play me their albums. From there, a cousin started showing me bands like Skid Row and Guns n’ Roses and that was love at first hearing. I became passionate about Hard Rock music right there and then. I’d lock myself up in my bedroom, turn up the volume and scream along to “Slave To The Grind” or “You Could be Mine.” I actually drove off two neighbors that couldn’t stand my noise anymore and decided to move (laughs). From there it escalated to heavier stuff and I became a Metal fan and the vocalists that really had an impact on me were guys like Sebastian Bach, Freddie Mercury and Rob Halford. I wanted to sing like them and there was no one at that time to tell me “women can’t do that” so I didn’t realize women don’t normally sound like that until I started singing in a metal band (laughs). That’s when I started being interested in also using my low notes instead of singing as high as possible.
As you reach more and more fans, the ultimate question is “What’s next?” Tell me your plans for the rest of 2012 and if you have anything on the books for 2013.
I’m going to see Christmas on the road this year! (laughs) We’ll be touring the north and northeast areas of Brazil for the first time… we have toured 20 countries and I had never had the chance to play several areas of my own home country. We are looking at some 10 to 15 dates in December, then we’ll take two weeks off just so our families don’t annoy us too much and then it’s back on the road (laughs). We are looking into touring plans for North America and Europe in 2013, we’d love to play all places but those two continents are the ones that we are most likely to hit next year. However provided the opportunity, we’ll just stay the whole year on the road, that’s what we love the most. Then after that we’ll start thinking of a new album but before that we just want to enjoy and support Inner Monster Out as much as we can!
Thanks for your time, Dani! What would you like to say to wrap things up?
Thanks for the support! I hope everyone likes Inner Monster Out and that we’ll see each other at a show, the sooner the better! Keep your horns up!
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